Researchers at Stanford have conducted the largest study ever examining new methods for preventing melanoma and found that women who took aspirin on a regular basis decreased their risk of developing the dangerous form of skin cancer.
The findings are significant because they have the potential to reduce the number of people diagnosed with melanoma, an estimated 76,600 for 2013, and to save lives. The skin cancer is projected to cause nearly 9,500 this year alone.
In the study, which was published today in the journal Cancer, researchers drew on data from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), which collected health information (including information on such things as aspirin and non-aspirin NSAIDs use) from postmenopausal U.S. women for an average of 12 years. As my colleague explains in a release:
The Stanford study focused on the data of roughly 60,000 Caucasian women who were selected because less skin pigment is a risk factor for melanoma. The Stanford researchers found that those who took aspirin decreased their risk of developing melanoma by an average of 21 percent. Moreover, the protective effect increased over time: There was an 11 percent risk reduction at one year, a 22 percent risk reduction between one and four years, and as much as a 30 percent risk reduction at five years and beyond.
One way aspirin may prevent melanomas is through its anti-inflammatory effects, [Jean Tang, MD, PhD, senior author of the study] said. Even though non-aspirin NSAIDs also reduce inflammation, they don't use the same pathways that aspirin uses to become activated in the body. That difference may be the key to aspirin's effectiveness.
The results are promising, but researchers caution that more studies need to be completed before they can definitively say "an aspirin a day will keep melanoma away." Tang commented, "We don't know how much aspirin should be taken, or for how long, to be most effective."